Tears and cheers from U.S. Soldiers in Iraq

Army Sgt. James Bishop wiped away tears while he watched Barack Obama take the presidential oath Tuesday and wished his mother had lived to see a fellow black assume their nation’s highest office.

“My mother always wanted to be here,” said Bishop, 39, from Washington, D.C., who watched the ceremony on TV at Camp Liberty on the western edge of Baghdad.

“She always wanted this to happen, and she said it was going to happen one day,” he added. “Unfortunately, she passed before this time came.”

Across Iraq, many of the 140,000 U.S. military personnel watched the inaugural ceremony on television sets in dining halls and break rooms or over the Web at large installations with Internet service.

About 25 soldiers from the 299th Brigade Support Battalion of the 1st Infantry Division gathered in the chaplain’s office at Camp Liberty, watching the ceremony and munching snacks donated by Americans back home.

The soldiers cheered, whistled and applauded when Obama recited his oath as the 44th president.

If any of the soldiers resented Obama’s Nov. 4 election victory over Sen. John McCain, they didn’t show it, even though the Republican is widely admired in the ranks as a hero of the Vietnam War.

I am proud of how far our nation has come,” said Maj. Charles Gatling, 38, of New York City.

I’m as happy as any to see this day finally arrive. No doubt I’ll have disagreements on policy and practice. This is all about politics after all. Still, our nation has taken a step forward towards honesty and integrity. How far into the bureaucracy it gets may be another story.

Iraqis anticipate first nationwide elections since 2005

One of the issues in the election – is standing there in front of these posters
Daylife/Getty Images

In the years since Iraqis last brandished fingers stained with purple ink to show the world they had voted in a free election, their country has plunged deeper into, and slowly climbed out of, brutal sectarian war. So it is with bated breath that Iraq’s leaders, citizens and the U.S. officials who still have 140,000 troops stationed there are waiting for the next elections at the end of this month.

There is no shortage of enthusiasm for democracy almost six years after the U.S.-led invasion to oust Saddam Hussein. More than 400 parties and groups have registered to field 14,431 candidates to contest just 440 provincial council seats.

In the weeks since campaigning began, the concrete blast walls that have become an enduring feature of Iraqi life have been quickly plastered with a bewildering array of posters.

The biggest achievement of the election may just be the fact of holding it. Western diplomats say a second cycle of elections like this one can be a more challenging milestone for a new democracy than the first…

Many Iraqis talk of change, and hope the election will reform regional governments that spend billions of dollars of state funds but are widely seen as corrupt, unaccountable and beholden to the interests of feuding sectarian groups.

But the high stakes means there may also be violence in a country grown used to settling political scores with guns and bombs. So far, two candidates have been gunned down and the deputy head of a Sunni Arab party was blown up by a suicide bomber who burst into his home during a meeting with candidates.

RTFA. Gives you a broad brush-stroke picture of what’s in process. I’ll try to keep up with more details.

I know. Cowboy leadership didn’t help the situation.

Calm And Socially Active? You May Not Develop Dementia

A new study shows that people who are socially active and not easily stressed may be less likely to develop dementia. The research is published in the January 20, 2009, print issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

The study involves 506 older people who did not have dementia when first examined. The group was given questionnaires about their personality traits and lifestyle. The personality questions identified people with different degrees of neuroticism, a term meaning easily distressed. The questions also measured extraversion, or openness to talking to people. Those who were not easily distressed were calm and self-satisfied, whereas people who were easily distressed were emotionally unstable, negative and nervous. Outgoing people scored high on the extraversion scale and were socially active and optimistic compared to people with low extraversion who were reserved and introspective.

The lifestyle questionnaire determined how often each person regularly participated in leisure or organizational activities and the richness of their social network. Participants were followed for six years. During that time, 144 developed dementia.

The study found that people who were not socially active but calm and relaxed had a 50 percent lower risk of developing dementia compared with people who were isolated and prone to distress. The dementia risk was also 50 percent lower for people who were outgoing and calm compared to those who were outgoing and prone to distress.

It never hurts to review your own state from time to time.

China announces ‘no first use’ nuke policy

Daylife/Reuters Pictures

China, for the first time in history, revealed in detail of its longstanding policy of “no first use of nuclear weapons” promising that its nuclear missile weapons are “not aimed at any country” in peacetime.

In a white paper on national defense released by the Information Office of the State Council, China reaffirms its will to implement “a self-defensive nuclear strategy”.

“In peacetime, the nuclear missile weapons of the Second Artillery Force are not aimed at any country,” the white paper says.

It was the first time that China’s national defense white paper dedicates a whole chapter to the Second Artillery Force.

Time for the longest march to be accepted as marching towards peace.

Fiat and Chrysler create alliance

Daylife/Getty Images

Italian carmaker Fiat and US giant Chrysler have agreed to create a global strategic alliance. Under the terms of the deal, Fiat will get a 35% stake in Chrysler. In return, the US firm will get access to Fiat’s fuel-efficient vehicle technologies.

The United Auto Workers union (UAW) welcomed the deal, saying it could help preserve US manufacturing jobs.

The statement points out, however, that the agreement does not commit Fiat to funding Chrysler in future.

Chrysler has received an emergency loan from the US government worth $4bn, while Fiat has said it needed a partner because it was too small to continue on its own. Fiat chief executive Sergio Marchionne said the deal represented “a key milestone in the rapidly changing landscape of the automotive sector”.

Trading in Fiat shares had earlier been suspended amid speculation of a possible partnership with the US firm. After the announcement was made and trading resumed, Fiat shares rose 3.5%.

Now, bring over the new Fiat 500 with the 1.3 liter turbodiesel. Yes!

Wanna buy a refurb iPod – in China? It’s not any cheaper.

Apple has launched an online shop selling second-hand Apple products in China, offering discounts of up to 22 percent, as it looks to beef up its business in the country.

These are products that were previously sold and returned to Apple and have undergone quality tests, the company’s website said.

The refurbished products available on Apple’s Chinese website ranged from a 308 yuan ($44) iPod shuffle to an iMac computer costing more than 14,000 yuan ($2,047).

Apple has introduced similar deals in other countries, including the Unites States, the United Kingdom and Japan, for years, but second-hand purchase only makes up a small portion of its total sales.

The Reuters headline says the products are cheaper in China. Uh, a refurb iPod Shuffle from the Apple Stores in the United States starts at $39.